First Rains and Last Love-Bugs: Florida’s Seasonal Celebrations
I’ve never been much for Sabbats and Esbats. Even when I was fully involved in a Wiccan coven, the ritualized seasonal celebrations just never hit me. Mostly I attribute this ambivalence to the fact that I live in a State with only two seasons. Heat-Death-of-the-Universe and spring. Florida doesn’t have shimmering snow fall or auburn leaves gently descending from the tree tops. Florida has Hot and Hotter. So when I’m spending time in the witchcraft community and hear someone talking about “The snow fallen from the Cailleach’s staff” here in Florida I’m kind of left scratching my head.
Being land focused means seasonal shifts are incredibly important, but the material provided reflects a very Eurocentric worldview of how the land changes. I’ve always kind of assumed that I would never have a seasonal focus in my practice, but I was actively ignoring the many ways in which I already celebrate seasonal shifts that are culturally programmed into me. I want to look at the ways that seasons work here in Florida and also look at the natural and cultural events that can help shape a deeper relationship with the land.
A Land of Two Seasons
Y’all thought I was joking when I said Florida only has two seasons but it does. We have a hot wet season and a dry cool season. Wet season is where a lot of common Florida stereotypes come from. You’ve got flash thunderstorms, bugs coming indoors, and unbearable humidity. Wet season is also the start of Hurricane season, so there’s constantly a sense of mild to moderate agitation of all working class Floridians during this season. Wet Season takes place about mid-spring to late-summer give or take. Dry season is much more enjoyable and you’re less prone to finding angry Floridians (but we are the home of Florida Man so don’t let your guard down). Dry season is marked by cooler temperatures, less bugs, and (thank the Lord) less humidity. There are also more subtle things that take place during this time. The sloughs and swamps are more mud than water. Also anytime it dips under 70 we constantly complain about it being “freezing”.
As a note, although in reality theres only two true seasons in Florida we still use the four seasons approach because of cultural reasons. Wet Season is roughly Spring-Summer and Dry Season is roughly Fall-Winter. I’ll occasionally slip in and out of the two naming conventions because that’s typically how we actually talk about the seasons.
Only recently have I started thinking about how drastically life changes during the seasonal shifts. Summer is a miserable time for Floridians. Most of us a working class folks, in my job I spend a solid 20% of my day running around outside in 90 degree weather. I’m lucky that my current job splits inside and outside time, I used to work at a theme park in central Florida where I spent 95% of the workday outside. I wasn’t allowed to lean or sit no matter what and depending on what attraction I was at, if a thunderstorm rolled in I wasn’t allowed to take shelter. So wet season has the potential to be really dreadful.
It’s hard to think about the positives during this time, because they are always met with some kind of balancing force. For me the wet season is wonderful because storms are so prevalent, but as soon as the are gone the humidity makes it unbearable to stay outside. I love the growth my plants get from the rain, but lament the spikes in my electric bill. Pagan seasonal celebrations about fertility and joy during this time feels anachronistic and divorced from my reality. The land isn’t “waking up” because it never really goes to sleep the way these Wheel of Year events talk about.
Wet season is a time of danger and growth. Great bands of Storm Spirits are raging in the sky, the spirits of the swamp get back their water, and the winds whip across the coasts bringing the threat of hurricanes. Wet season is danger and power, and for a witch it can mean overcoming these things and potentially gaining power over them. To be a witch is to be a dangerous creature, and summer here shows all the dangers of beautiful things. The shining sun is an enemy to all life here, which I find an important lesson for a witch.
Dry season however is like a wonderland. During the mornings when it’s in the 60’s I get to wear cute winter sweaters, and then at noon (when it’s 80) I can change back into my normal clothes. Mostly, dry season marks the time when being outside is possible and incredibly fun. The swamps may not be as full but they are cool and the animals are everywhere. I am more likely to explore new areas and spend longer duration in the wild. I’m less worried about biting insects or snakes. I am able to experience the land with moderate safety.
My connection to the land deepens during the dry season simply because it becomes more accessible. Winter becomes a time to explore, to go to new places, and strengthen bonds with my spirits. Eurocentric concepts of winter would create a narrative of the land as asleep during this time, but the reality in my part of the world is completely different. Winter becomes the time when the witch has more potential than ever to form pacts and develop specific skills. I can go out in the middle of the night to a crossroads to speak to the Witch Father without fear of the elements.
Developing Seasonal Traditions
Despite a growing respect for the shifts that take place between seasons, I still don’t do much to mark out the seasonal divide. Holidays that I celebrate like Halloween or Imbolc are important and traditionally have some involvement with seasonal divides, but they don’t fulfill that role for me due to the above reasons. I like to think that I am always growing, I never want to present myself as someone who “has it all figured out” because that demonstrably untrue. I want to continue experimenting and finding what works, and then continuing to improve upon it so that it grows over time and location. Seasonal work is a perfect example of this approach, because it’s something that even as I write this new ideas are coming to the forefront of what may work. Here are some events that can help mark seasonal celebrations, and how it may be integrated into a witchcraft practice.
The First Storm of the Season: This is a very fluid event, but one that is very real. During dry season storms are incredibly rare, but sometime around February-March comes the First Storm. There just tends to mark that storms will start increasing in frequency, till the point where you start getting storms every day. My partner and I get incredibly excited during the First Storm, normally we celebrate by putting on tea as soon as we hear the rain coming down. It’s a reflective event and for those drawn to storm spirits can be particularly important.
Love Bugs: These critters are so ingrained into my daily life that it’s strange when I realize that other places don’t deal with these things. Love bugs are small black and red flying insects that have a very strange mating behavior. The bugs couple together on their backsides and fly, rear-to-rear for days on end. Love-Bug season kind of just springs up on you. One day your car is perfectly clean and the next day your bumper is covered in hundred of little bugs stuck to each other. I don’t have any spiritual relationship to these guys, but they certainly mark a shift.
The Strawberry Festival: This cultural event is something that many Floridians may remember from their childhood. It’s held in Plant City, Florida each spring and celebrates the agricultural history of Florida. Not only does this event typically mark a change in the seasons but it also brings together folks from all over Florida to celebrate the literal fruits of the land. Given its history and focus on agriculture I think it’s an event that deserves a little more love from land-based spirituality folks.
When the Cold Wind Hits: This is similar to the First Storm in that there is a level of fluidity to this. Towards the end of the wet season you may one day notice that the wind isn’t blowing hot humid air at you anymore. You may even experience a chill. The Cold Wind signals a shift towards the dry season. I feel a shift in the spirits as well, and have found that different spirits ride on this wind as it comes to shore. Depending on your relationship with the spirits this may a time of welcoming them back, or protecting your home magically from them.
Royal Poinciana Blooming: This one is very specific to the city I live in. Royal Poinciana cover this town and when wet season hits they are flush with bright reds, vibrant orange, and deep purples. Seeing these trees brimming with life is a pleasant introduction into a harsh summer.
Ghost Orchid: This one is a bit more on the poetic side of things, but I would love to create an actual celebration surrounding this plant. Within some swamps throughout Southern Florida there is a rare orchid that grows along Cypress trunks. The Ghost Orchid is a pale white flower that has co-evolved with a very specific moth called the Sphinx Moth. The orchid blooms “in the peak of mosquito season” according to Big Cypress National Preserve, typically around June and July. I’ve touched the roots of a ghost orchid, and felt a sense of utter bliss. I am hoping to see one bloom this year, and if I do I’m hoping to learn from the spirit of the flower. It has become iconic of this area and it’s blooming is something I feel should be important to my practice.
I pride my magic on being practical, so I often try to ask myself “what’s the benefit to this?” What is the payout for creating celebrations that fit my locality? Is it just to mirror off the Wheel of the Year? If that were the case I probably wouldn't bother, but the subject goes beyond that. On a personal level, marking out these events allows a me to tune into how the land is shifting and how its needs are shifting.
These events can signal when certain plants are most plentiful and most available for harvesting. Certain tools then may be better crafted when a given plant is in bloom. Flying ointments and incenses are prime examples, as they require very specific ingredients which may not be available all year round. The First Storm gives me a chance to reflect and be in the moment. The Cold Wind signals to me the arrival of spirits who offer new information. When the magnolias bloom it's a time of sensuality and lust. Each event can be tailored to the individual, household, and community.
Modern witches are social creatures. We enjoy spending time with others who are familiar with what we do, even if our crafts look very different. So by developing a local celebration, no matter how small, you are giving a group of people a reason to bond together and observe the natural cycles of the land. I think there is an added benefit of this being a secular affair, as most witchcraft gatherings are highly religious in nature. Religious events are of course great, but given the fact that witches may belong to any number of religions a secular event based solely on the lands cycle can be (in my eyes) something that reaches across multiple faiths.
Photo taken by Aaron Oberon. All images and content copyright by author Aaron Oberon, 2018. All rights reserved. Cypress Slough during Wet Season (2017)